Georgia Tech’s first game against Clemson went...interestingly. The Yellow Jackets spotted the Tigers a 20-2 lead to start the game, but later in the final 9 minutes of the first half the Jackets knocked the Tigers’ lead down from 19 to just 5. Then Georgia Tech got off to another slow start in the second half and Clemson took the game fairly easily. Now the Yellow Jackets get a chance for revenge at home.
Clemson came into the season with fairly high expectations (they were picked sixth in the preseason ACC poll). They had plenty of returning experience and some proven contributors so things were looking up. Alas, Brad Brownell is still their coach. Brownell comes from the Mark Fox school of “Just Doing Enough To Not Get Fired”. As such, the team is underperforming expectations. They are currently 3-5 in the ACC with their three wins being at home against GT, Pitt, and Wake Forest. They are 0-8 in Quadrant “A” games per kenpom (Quadrant A games are equivalent to playing a top-50 team at a neutral site). That being said, this team is still firmly on the bubble. They lack impressive wins (a home win over Lipscomb is nice, but you probably don’t want that as your best win), but they also really lack any major losses (a neutral site loss to Creighton is as bad as it gets). They have to keep beating up on the bottom of the ACC and pick up a big win or two in the final month if they want to make the tournament though. A loss tonight would really hurt their chances by leaving them at 3-6 in conference with not much time left to turn it around.
The Tigers are pretty similar to the team they’ve been in the past. They play slow basketball, have a strong defense, and have trouble shooting (does that sound similar to anybody else?). Offensively they are 67th in the country and their offense is very dependent on scoring inside. They do very well scoring inside the paint in large part due to their size (6’3” Marcquise Reed is their smallest regular. Tech’s matchup zone will have to do a good job of preventing the ball from getting inside. Clemson is nearly as bad as Tech at 3-point shooting only hitting 32.1% on the year. In their first matchup this year the Tigers hit 43.8% from deep. Hopefully there’s not a repeat. Their offense also struggles with turnovers, turning it over on 20.1% of their possessions. Tech needs to win the turnover battle.
Defensively Clemson is 30th in the country and they do nearly everything well on that side of the ball. They do pack their defense in which leads to their one big weakness, three point shooting. That shouldn’t matter much against GT who doesn’t have a single consistent three point shooter. Look for this to be a low scoring affair.
Clemson is led by a trio of seniors: Marcquise Reed, Elijah Thomas, and Shelton Mitchell. Point guard Marcquise Reed is Clemson’s best scorer and best overall player. He averages 19.1 points per game on 46.5% shooting from the field and 33.3% from deep. He went off for 30 points on 10-13 shooting in the first game so Tech knows how dangerous he can be. Center Elijah Thomas might challenge Reed for best player though. He averages 13.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 66.1% shooting. He is only 6’9”, but he’s also a very good shot blocker (His 9.1% block percentage is 41st in the country). Guard Shelton Mitchell rounds out the scoring with 11.3 points per game, but he only shoots 38.8% from the field and 28.4% from deep. Letting him get his points is not the worst strategy.
In the starting lineup those three are joined by forwards Aamir Simms and David Skara. Both Simms and Skara are capable, but unexplosive, scorers, decent rebounders, and solid defenders. Skara is a 39.6% 3 point shooter making him the biggest threat from deep. Wing Clyde Trapp, forward John Newman, and center Javan White should also play which rounds out Clemson’s lineup.
One of the keys to the game for Tech will be to stay out of foul trouble. This has been a persistent issue in the last several games, particularly for Tech’s most important players, Jose Alvarado, James Banks, and AD Gueye. Keeping these players on the court will greatly help Tech’s efforts. Another is to hit a few three pointers. The Yellow Jackets don’t have to go off from deep, but Clemson is vulnerable there and pretty much only there. We need to at least get some easy points there.
This game takes place tonight at McCamish Pavilion at 7 pm and will be shown on the ACC Network and online at WatchESPN. My prediction is that Tech takes the rematch due to a very stout defense. Jose Alvarado comes back with a vengeance after his rough game on Saturday and leads the offense to a solid day.